When I was little, I wanted to be a princess. Not a Queen…a princess. I wanted a treasure chest of acrylic colored butterflies, a dolphin, horse, whale, unicorn, the perfect prince with green eyes. Oh, and I wanted to rule a kingdom.
I turned out to be a veterinarian instead.
Because by the time I was old enough to choose a career path, I had decided that people were quite complicated and were best avoided. Animals were better. I didn’t mind saving animals. And although cows and sheep were not whales and dolphins, watching ruminants graze, was as good as floating in the ocean. I was content.
But then, one day, whilst I was busy in the practice, I got a call from a farmer.
“Doctor, my child is sick, what must I do?”
Now, this of course was confusing, because I was an animal doctor, not a pediatrician. I held my ground though. I was quite new to the practice, so I didn’t know if it was something that happened in that community… farmers taking their kids to the vet…
“I am not a human doctor, mister Ndandu. I don’t think I can help.” I said, rather cautiously.
“But you treated the cow the other day.”
Oh! It dawned on me that it was a client I saw two days ago. I had given the cow some antibiotics and hoped it would get better.
“How is the cow doing mister Ndandu?”
“It’s dead. But we ate it and now my child is sick!”
I felt the cold rush up my spine. I didn’t quite like people, but children were somehow not really classified as people. They were more like puppies. And now, there was a child that might, for all I know, have picked up a disease from a cow I treated!
That event changed my life. My career took a drastic turn. From clinical medicine I ventured into preventative medicine – epidemiology. But it wasn’t enough to just study animal populations anymore… I wanted to understand how diseases from animal populations affects the human population, so that I could prevent it. Because…in every human population, there is a child that trusts the food she has been given.
These days I am still not a princess. But, I have come to understand that healthy people are more likely to have healthy animals and a healthy environment, which is needed for healthy animals. So, instead of escaping people, I have found myself right in the center of their story.
And THAT is how the One Health Story begins… right in the midst of people…